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Gary Penn

There’s some overlap here:

The very idea that we could explore anything other than the utterly frivolous through toys and play (actual or virtual) is culturally unacceptable. I also see no evidence that we have a strong enough inherent appreciation of how to use toys and play to express ourselves in more radical ways. Sometimes it feels like the medium is stuck in the equivalent of (shudder) a silent slapstick era :)

Account Deleted

Considering that society hinges on games of law, currency, sexual norms and commerce (and sometimes, all at once!) there's no need to draw an absolute distinction. Rather, when "games" have been radical, dynasties have crumbled.

Considering the potential for games to organize currency and commerce means they can be "radical" in terms of exploiting market inefficiencies and short-falls that tie into environmental, social and intellectual health. These inefficiencies are mostly political in origin. So perhaps designing a game that allows people to learn about, purchase, sell and invest in better ways of living are the most effective form of protest there can be, precisely because of their unassuming straight-lacedness.

If you assume games have to stay within the magic circle, then ironic resonances like Paolo's work are perhaps the best you can get. I'm reminded of my saga with Super Columbine Massacre, which resonated outside its magic circle pretty powerfully and had extremely low production costs associated with it, and was ultimately monetized through the creator's documentary project.

Looking forward to the HTML 5 open web broadening the walls if not knocking them down entirely.

Jared Hester

Unfortunately, your semantics are in need of critique. I take issue with the use of “fringe” as an accurate title for the segment of games you defined. The word fringe bears a heavy negative connotation and by definition something on the fringe holds little importance or relevance. It is a suitable title for some of the types of games that you discussed, I’m looking at you Tale of Tales, but it is a poor fit for a game like Castle Crashers.

Does Castle Crashers really count as being a “fringe” game when it has sold over 2.5 million units just on XBLA, while Fable III sold 1.8 million units and Final Fantasy XIII only sold 1.2 million units? At 30 million Xbox LIVE users that’d put them at 12% of the total user base; so unless the entirety of “fringe” gamers bought Castle Crashers the percentage of the market they represent is likely slightly higher. Unless you also qualify Final Fantasy and Fable III as “fringe” games; which begs the question where is the line between the “fringe” and the mainstream?

“A common trait of fringe gamers is that they appreciate irony, playfulness and knowing subversion of the norm.”

This is an appreciation of games with content that is genre satire, not subversion. It’s difficult to think of a game with mechanics that could be considered satiric within its genre; but it seems possible.

“Radical works are distinguishable from other works in that they don’t just make you laugh or think. They incite something. They chime with their audience emotionally, often divisively, and take many forms. They can be creative, social or political. They shock with a purpose, and subvert signifiers to do so.”

Radical is not inherently tied to these kinds of works; your prior usage of the word shows this:

“Do they want that fantasy to be a radical departure from those roots?”
There can also be games focused around radical improvements and radical evolutions in content and/or mechanics, which would be accurately described as radical works. In this case subversive is the word you’re looking for, not radical.

What you’re really talking about is games with subversive content. Game designers haven’t achieved a mastery ludorhetoric where mechanics and content can be woven together into a cohesive aesthetic piece that could be considered culture defining or “high art”, but it won’t be long until that day comes. When it has we’ll be significantly closer to games that are subversive in the ways you’ve described.

The sets of games you’re trying to encompass within a catchall term are too diverse for one categorical label to provide any useful information about them. Some are best described as bleeding edge research into the ways gameplay mechanics can be refined or changed, others explore unique and niche content, and there even attempts at creating entirely new genres both in content and mechanics. On a fundamental level the aims of these sets are different things; it does them a disservice to say that they are related in ways that they are not. But the biggest issue with calling all of them “fringe” games is that you unfairly elevate the games that truly are on the fringe by grouping them with the ones of merit and quality.


Hi Jared,

I disagree with your assessment that the term 'fringe' has negative connotations. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for example, is a hugely popular event that sells nearly 2m tickets for all sorts of performances at various scales every year.

Both Castle Crashers and Fable are examples of games that appeal to fringe gamers, whereas Skyrim is more in the authentic category. Fringe is not about scale, size or format. I'm not making the argument that disk games are mainstream and digital is fringe, or anything like that.

I'm also making the argument that the difference between fringe and authentic is soft, and plenty of games blur the line. There is no exactness of terms that can encompass exactly how it splits, whether those games are also parts of niches, tribes and so on. By necessity the demarcations have to be fuzzy, just like any art.

You've also misread my intent when I asked “Do they want that fantasy to be a radical departure from those roots?” I am referring to the kind of radicalism that I described later on there not an offhand usage for improvements or innovations.

Lastly, no I am not just talking about subversion. Subversion is commonly seen in fringe games but it comes in different strains and strengths. Much alternative comedy is subversive, but Brass Eye is confrontational.

Tony Coles

I find it quite hard to work out what your definitions are really about here, Tagdh.

In terms of radicalism, it’s hard for me not to think of the No Russian furore, which spilled into tabloid sensationalism but nonetheless sparked some serious debate. Personally, I thought it was edgy content for the sake of being edgy, but nonetheless, No Russian stepped out of gaming culture and touched the mainstream. Likewise, other tabloid scandals bring game content out of its culture into the popular one – Mass Effect’s sex scenes, as awful and nonsensical as they are, sparked debate about sexuality in games. GTA is a constant victim of this – but you threw away Hot Coffee as being ‘just’ tabloid furore, without considering that a media-fed moral panic is perhaps the modern equivalent of rioting in the streets to express rage at some cultural artefact.

Take this part of your intro: Can we foresee a day when the ideas within a game cause discussion and debate much as a controversial play might?

I’d say No Russian did exactly this as a storm in a teacup. I don’t think for a second that in the modern landscape, a controversial play would create anywhere near the same popular culture impact as a violent game that plays irresponsibly with politics, ethics or morality. Precisely because tabloids will jump on them as a societal danger – I’d struggle to think of something as gentrified as a play having anywhere near the same lure.

The other point I want to make is that in general, popular culture has a problem of ignorance about how radical games can be, rather than games not being radical. If you want society-changing debate, it’s about those with the influence to start such a debate simply *taking notice* of what already exists, rather than game designers actively seeking to bring it to their attention.


I think that to find edgy, radical o subversive video games we don't have to follow the same path of the radicalism found in other art forms.

If radical games "incite something", "can be creative, social or political" or "confront society as well as being fun to play" then could Alterante Reality Games be the way to go?

And if you are looking for games that cause "discussion and debate", then Gamification is the hot topic nowadays, isn't it?

So could ARG and gamification be the true radical answers?

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